Home for the Holidays – Chapter 2

This is Chapter 2 of a little holiday story with my favorite monster hunter, Nick Ventner. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1! Excuse my makeshift cover above, I’m a writer and not much of an artist 🙂

2 – Family Reunion

James pulled up to a house that was covered from foundation to chimney in twinkling, multicolor lights. The thought of the power bill alone was enough to make Nick sick to his stomach. He stumbled out of the car and immediately vomited into the snow. The strong burn of cheap alcohol filled his nose, but the freshness that came after a good vomit was a pleasant counter. “Well, we can rule out a water goblin in the case of my empty flask.” Nick wiped the vomit from his lips.

     “Jesus Christ, Nick. Can you try to compose yourself a little bit?”

     “That was the idea.” The horrible stink of bile filled his nostrils and he ate a handful of snow to wash it all away. If he was to continue drinking in any capacity, he needed to taper off, and vomiting was the fastest way there. Nick stamped his feet and flexed his hands, measuring his new level of sobriety. Satisfied, he straightened up and tried to put on his best impression of a smile. “Alright, let’s go meet these people who are definitely your family.”

     James shook his head. “I knew this was a mistake.” He turned away and walked up the short path to the front door.

     Trying to be clandestine, Nick snuck around the back of the car and opened the trunk. From inside, he pulled out a small collapsible harpoon rifle, a set of knives, and a flash grenade. The rifle was compact enough to fit on an insert he had cut into his winter jacket years ago, and he concealed it there. The grenade went in a pocket, and he put the knives in various uncomfortable positions around the rest of his body. It was a routine he was used to, and had saved his life countless times.

     “You coming?” called James from the porch.

     Nick looked longingly at a pile of holy symbols heaped toward the back of the trunk and reluctantly shut it. “Yup, sorry, almost forgot my book.” He grabbed the tome off the passenger seat and hurried to catch up with James, nearly slipping on ice in the process. He shuddered to think where one of the knives might have gone if he had.

     “You’re not really bringing that thing, are you?”

     Nick looked at James very seriously. “You’re my apprentice and I need you trust me on this one. I bring this with me everywhere and it’s gotten me out of more than a few scrapes.” Nick belched a sickly cloud of bile and stale liquor into the frosty winter air. “Whoo, sorry, that was a nasty one.” He gagged on the words as they came out.  

“You almost had me for a second.” James waved a hand in front of his face, trying to disperse the smell. “Just don’t bring it out at dinner. These people are open minded, but not that open minded.” James rang the doorbell.

Immediately, the door flew open, spilling a beam of cheery light out from the entryway. Standing in the doorway were a man and a woman, both in their fifties, beaming. “My, my, young James, is that you?” asked the woman in a horribly saccharine voice.

“You sure have grown,” boomed the man.

Nick winced at the boisterous volume and tried not to vomit again. If that’s not a wendigo impersonating a human, I don’t know what is. Greetings at the Ventner household were offered in grunts or curses, and Nick preferred it to this jolly crap.

“It’s good to see you both.” James hugged the two of them. “How long has it been?”

Both the man and the woman shook their heads in confusion. “Gosh, I don’t even know,” said the man. “Long time, that’s for sure.” He chuckled and looked past James, seeing Nick for the first time. “And who’s your friend?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s Nick. He’s sort of my boss at my new job.”

Nick put on a plastic smile and tried his best to turn on the charm. “Nothing ‘sort of’ about it.” He laughed and reached out a hand to shake the man’s hand, being sure not to take his glove off. “I’m Nick Ventner, proprietor of the Ventner Agency. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” He watched the man’s eyes as he said it, and swore he saw a twitch of fear there, but it could have just as easily been nothing.

“No, I can’t say I have, but either way, good to meet you, Mr. Ventner. Any friend of James is a friend of ours. I’m Bill, and this is my wife, Marie.”

“A pleasure to meet you both.” Nick scanned every inch of their faces, looking for something he could use, something off, but by all appearances, they were normal.

“Well, why don’t you both come in and we’ll fix you something hot to drink. You’ll catch your death out there.” The woman motioned to hurry them both inside.

     Nick looked at James, hoping to see some sign of reluctance, but there was nothing. Am I really the one going crazy here? He thought back to the creature that had crossed the road and put the radio on the fritz. If they were dealing with some manner of psychic beast, they were already in deep trouble.

     “You coming, Mr. Ventner?” asked the man.

     “Yes of course, sorry. Get lost in my own head these days, running a business and all.” Nick stepped into the house and was surprised to find it wasn’t much warmer than outside.

     “I should have warned you, our heat’s been on the fritz,” said Bob, walking into the kitchen. “But we’ve got hot cocoa and some spirits to warm your bodies, and a couple of space heaters in the bedroom.”

     Nick took off his gloves and looked around the entryway. He exhaled, still able to see his own breath.

     “Terrible timing for the heat to go out in a storm like this,” commented James, beginning to undo his parka and then thinking better of it. “Maybe I could take a shot at fixing it tonight.”

     “Oh, don’t worry about it, dear,” called Marie. “We don’t mind it too much.”

     I’ll bet you don’t, thought Nick, looking at the walls suspiciously. There were pictures of Bill and Marie everywhere, and even one family photo of what appeared to be a young James. Nick approached it carefully as though it might shoot poison darts at him and brushed a fine layer of dust off the frame.

     “Try not to break anything,” muttered James and started off toward the kitchen before Nick had a chance to protest.

     Dust on the photos, Nick noted. Heat’s out. James hasn’t heard from them in a long time. It was all adding up to a suspicious amount of evidence against the allegedly perfect family that had been presented before them. Can’t let my guard down, need to be careful. Nick walked down a darkened hallway, away from the kitchen.

     A voice stopped him dead in his tracks. “Looking for the bathroom?”

     Nick spun around violently, reaching for the knife he had concealed in his waistline. When he was halfway through the turn, he saw Bill, smiling at him from the entryway, holding two steaming mugs. Nick’s heart hammered in his chest, beating a crazy drum beat that no amount of drugs could make danceable.

     “Feeling a bit jumpy?” asked Bill.

     Nick took a deep breath, removing the tension from his muscles one by one. “I’m sorry, it’s just—”

     “You’re feeling a bit hung over.” A wry smile crept across Bill’s face.

     Nick’s eyes widened.

     “Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Saw you puking out front. Figured you might need a little hair of the dog to get you through it.” He held a cup out. “It’s rum with a splash of hot cocoa in it. Nice and warm to get us through this absolutely miserable storm.”

     Nick reached out and took the cup, sniffing at it experimentally. His eyes watered from the steam. Overpowered by urges, Nick sipped at the liquid and felt fire run past his tongue and into the back of his throat. He exhaled, blowing a large cloud of mist. “Holy shit.”

     “Damn right. That’s the good stuff.” Bill took a sip of his own. “Now, I know you must feel like a stranger here, but James told us you don’t have anywhere else to be for the holidays. You’re welcome with us, and you’re not imposing.”

     Nick didn’t like the sound of that. It sounded warm, fuzzy and foreign. “I don’t—”

     “Or, you can think of it as a place where you can get blind drunk in a corner. Hell, that’s what I plan on doing.” Bill held the cup to his lips and drank deeply, draining what was left of it. “I’ll fix us another cup…”

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If you like what you read, consider checking out our new, free audiodrama, Man of the Mountain. It’s about a man hell bent on maintaining the bigfoot legend, and the tabloid reporter that takes it upon herself to stop him. It’s on all streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher. For a full list of links, check out our Anchor page.

Inter-Dimensional Lake Monsters Among Us?!

Well, if that googly-eyed, odd, pipe of a fish isn’t enough to convince you that monsters exist in the deep, maybe my second interview with David George Gordon will! David is an expert in all things cryptid and nature. He’s written several field guides on more traditional flora and fauna, but is especially renowned for his book, The Sasquatch Seekers Field Manual.

In our interview for this episode, we left the mystery of Bigfoot behind in favor of talking about something a little stranger. Cadborosaurus is a mythical sea/lake monster rumored to live off the coast of British Columbia. David has gone on several expeditions looking for the creature, and we cover them all, including the research for his upcoming book on the subject. It’s definitely one of the stranger topics I’ve covered, but as always, David is a fantastic guest and a very entertaining speaker.

As always, this episode is up for free on most streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and more). You can follow those links or just listen below! Remember, the best way to support the podcast is to share it around if you like it, comment on this blog, tweet at me (@RealMacAshton), or just holler from the rooftops. We really appreciate it :).

What is A Man of the Mountain?

Hello everyone, if you’ve been following me on social media recently, you’ve probably seen me talking about my latest writing project, A Man of the Mountain. So, I figured I’d take a second and answer some questions about what it is exactly.

What is it?

A Man of the Mountain is a prequel novella (think shorter book) to my first novel, Whiteout. BUT, you don’t have to have read Whiteout to enjoy this. It stands completely on its own and if anything, might be more fun to listen to before the novel.

In an unconventional twist, we’re releasing it as an audio-drama before putting out physical copies. What’s an audio drama? It’s basically an audio book with higher production quality, more sound effects, and a cast of different people reading different characters. Leigh James, a man we met on Reddit, fits given that I met my publisher on Craig’s List, recorded most of the narration, found all the actors, sound effects, and music for this. He did an incredible job, and is the real hero here 🙂

How much does it cost?

That’s the beautiful thing, it’s FREE! You can listen now on any platform you get your podcasts from: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and six others. You can also listen to it on the player below:

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to sell it eventually! The episodes will always be free on your podcasting platforms, but in a month or so, we’ll be releasing the full audiobook for those who don’t want to wait for the episodes to release.

In addition, we’ll be selling the novella in e-book and physical formats, beginning on the day the last episode drops, 3/3/20. Pre-orders are live for the e-book with paperback/hardback coming soon.

Episodes release every two weeks!

What does this mean for your other podcast?

TWO CHRISTMASES! I’m still working on Cryptids Decrypted and will still be putting out around two episodes a month. In fact, next week, I’ve got an awesome episode releasing where I interviewed David George Gordon about inter-dimensional sea/lake monsters. It’s pretty fantastic. If you don’t want to wait for me to edit it, I’ve put up the raw interview video. Apologies in advance for the quality, I blame Skype and my lack of lighting knowledge.

Bonus Round: When is the full sequel to Whiteout coming?

We haven’t pinned down a date yet, but likely sometime in the first half of 2020! It’s called Downpour, and here’s a link to a sample of the first few chapters. Call it your reward for making it this far in the post 🙂

A History of the Mystery – The Jersey Devil

This ‘real’ video is legit some of the best evidence for the myth…

On this episode of the critically acclaimed (by about 5 people) episode of Cryptids Decrypted, Ashton Macaulay, Tyler Mitchell, and John Ceccareli break down the Jersey Devil Myth. Now, you might ask, what gives us the right to deface such a legend? Well, as it turns out, the qualifications for expertise are simply owning a microphone and basic Google-Fu!

Jokes aside, this is without a doubt the wildest myth we’ve covered so far and it’s a fun conversation. If you’re interested in hearing about army generals firing cannonballs at mysterious figures in the fog, or a beast just trying to hail a cab, this is the episode for you. As usual, it’s up on most streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts. For more locations, check out our Anchor page below.

Writing the Book on the Jersey Devil – Brian Regal Interview

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Brian Regal, a professor in the Science of History at Kean University in New Jersey. While Brian is currently studying the myth of who discovered America, in the past he’s written two books concerning cryptids, creatures that are not proven to exist, and the people who study them. His first book on the subject, Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology took a critical look at researchers looking for Bigfoot. In this episode, we dive into the topic of his second book, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil to examine one of the most bizarre myths I’ve ever encountered.

So, if you’re into demonic children, goat-horse-bat-devil hybrids, or just want to hear two skeptics talk about cryptozoology, give the episode a listen. I’ve got links to our Anchor page and below, but we are available on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts where Cryptids Decrypted currently holds a five star rating 🙂